The T20 Lie

With IPL player auctions coming up later this week, here's a look at how misleading T20 stats can be

Most crucially, a great deal of team selection becomes lottery. International players with averages that hide their true T20 potential are picked by franchises for a sum that could accommodate two, maybe three, superior players in the format for the same money. Reliable and consistent domestic players who have played crucial roles for their teams are passed over for flash-in-the-pan players whom the averages system typically seems to glorify in T20. Players who have special qualities – like absorbing pressure with the bat in a sustained way or the ability to break partnerships with the ball – or the knack of performing consistently in big matches - these guys never get identified for these talents.

Coaches with conventional mindsets go more on the averages/aggregates system and their own gut feel about a player’s ability. Neither is reliable because at the end of the day, what a player does over a larger sample size of matches in the context of each match is the truest picture (for example, a strike rate of 150 in a match where the pitch conditions were such that everybody scored quickly and the match strike rate was 140 - that will not be as creditable as a strike rate of 100 where the match standard was 60 – even though the first example’s strike rate will lift the player’s career strike rate higher). As far as gut evaluations go, it is commonplace that unrealized potential is far more frequent in sport than fully exploited ability.

We use Impact Index here to reveal some information which is particularly relevant before the IPL Players’ Auction on February 4th. There are careers at stake here and it is disturbing to see the more deserving candidates getting sidestepped due to sheer ignorance.

But first, the bargains. Amongst the listed players – Daniel Harris is one of the five highest impact batsmen in all of T20 cricket ever (despite domestic cricket having a lower weightage than international) – but he is surprisingly in the lower category of $50,000 whereas 12 batsmen with a lower impact start at a higher reserve price than him in the auction including the likes of very low impact T20 players like Laxman, Sarwan, Ganga and Maynard. Sachithra Senanayake (Sri Lankan bowler) is even a more bizarre case. He is the highest impact bowler currently in T20 cricket – he comes in the $20,000 category – one of the best bargains in this year’s auction. Stunningly, 45 bowlers are listed with a higher reserve price than him. Other such players are Hamilton Masakadza and bowler Devendra Bishoo who are amongst the highest impact T20 players in the world, yet they are listed in a low category.

Now, the omissions. Dean Elgar (South African all-rounder) is one of the best big match players in T20 cricket and was part of the preliminary list sent to teams in the $20,000 category. Based on recommendation from the teams, he is now omitted from the final auction list. As is the case with wicket-keeping all-rounder Adam Crosthwaite - he is now out of the auction list whereas Denesh Ramdin, who has a considerably lower impact in T20 cricket, is in the $100,000 category.

High impact T20 players like Cliffe Deacon, Gerrie Snyman, Naeem Islam, Ryan Hinds and Isuru Udana (tipped by many to be the next Chaminda Vaas) are not even listed while players with a lower impact than them - like Ian Bell, Rikki Clarke, Simon Jones and Tom Maynard are included in the Auction list (the first two in the $200,000 category, the last two in the $100,000 category). This goes beyond even the traditional bias of international players in other formats commanding a higher price even if they are not great in the T20 format (like Peter Siddle, in the $200,000 category), simply because they are “known”. There appears to be considerable arbitrariness in the preparation of the list.

Players who are consistent in specific parameters, and who could be of huge utility to different franchises, are not listed. No one picks out Raymond van Schoor (Namibia) and Niranjan Behera (Orissa) for their ability to bat under pressure. Or the chasing ability of Shreyas Khanolkar (Railways) and Brad Wilson (New Zealand). The partnership-breaking abilities of Md Nabi (Afghanistan) and Amit Yadav (Goa) are ignored. The low failure rate of batsmen Gerrie Snyman (Namibia) and Sagun Kamat (Goa) and bowlers Hamid Hassan (Afghanistan) and Chaminda Vidanapathirana (Sri Lanka) are not in the mix at all.

The saddest omissions in an IPL context are high impact Indian domestic T20 players who get overlooked due to the inability of those supposed to be identifying them. These are also the most disappointing omissions in an Indian context as their selection could bring talented fresh young players into the fore, which would eventually enrich the national pool of players. The franchises would get them very cheap too, so everybody stands to gain from this. And yet…


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